For those not accustomed to it, life in rural Eastern Europe can feel very lonely and isolating.
I’ve spent all of my teenage life and most of my childhood in London, but recently, about a year ago, we were forced to move back to the old country due to financial reasons. I couldn’t have been older than three or four when we first transitioned to the UK, so my memories of my hometown were foggy at best. An old apartment complex in the middle of an industrial district isn’t exactly the most scenic place to grow up either, but though definitely drab at times, it always felt alive. There was always something to do, and the more interesting parts of town were just a short bus ride away. Here, there are only grasslands stretching for miles in whichever direction I look, not to mention the four hour drive between me and the nearest city. For the record, I don’t have a license.
Most of my days out here are spent helping dad and trying to find a decent internet connection, which is close to impossible (you have no idea how many attempts it took to post this). I’ve never been much of an extrovert, but having nobody to talk or relate to takes a toll on you. The local population is primarily comprised of people past their sixties. The last family with a kid closer to my age had apparently moved near a decade ago, which… yeah, you can definitely see why.
Unfortunately, as you’ve probably already guessed, boredom hasn’t been the worst thing that I’ve had to contend with. Not even close.
I remember when I first saw her.
It was still technically summer at the time, so evenings were tolerable, if not exactly “warm”. Dad and I were taking a walk along the dirt road that connects the village to the nearest highway. He was talking about how I just needed to hold out for a few more years, and that we’ll be able to move again once we save enough money. The prospect of spending literal years trapped in some desolate hamlet in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly assuring, but with him getting older and mum’s disabilities, I can’t just abandon them either. They are by no means perfect parents, but they’ve always tried their best and I appreciate them for it.
I remember looking over at my father, only to notice something in the distance past his shoulder. I strained my eyes. The gloom was far too dense to fully penetrate, but I could definitely distinguish the outline of someone standing amidst the tall grass, towering above it. The figure was that of a woman; a very tall and lanky woman. Her proportions weren’t impossible, but they were intimidating, especially coupled with the slanted stance and the fact that she just stood there, swaying like a willow in a windstorm.
Dad glanced over his shoulder as well, but then just looked back at me confused.
“What is it?” He asked.
I was so taken aback by the question that I didn’t know how to respond. How did he miss the giant woman standing in the middle of the field directly behind him?? I watched as the imposing silhouette suddenly began to descend, almost as if being swallowed by the earth itself, before disappearing beneath the grass entirely. Once I finally managed to articulate what I had seen, dad cut our walk short and we jogged home. There is nobody that lives here that even comes close to matching that description, but It certainly wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that some creepy tall woman was wandering the steppes at night. Weirdos aren’t exclusive to the big city; you know?
I felt nervous whenever I had to go out for the next few days, but the odd encounter eventually slipped my mind. Neither of us ever told mum since we didn’t want her to blow the whole thing out of proportion. Besides, she rarely left the house anyway.
I had all but forgotten about the woman in the steppe. That is, until about a week or so later. We were called over by an old couple that lives at the edge of town. Conveniently, right by that same road. The request wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. One of their goats had croaked during the night. Since both of them were in their eighties, they needed our help to drag it out the pen. We did as they asked, and were rewarded for our efforts with coffee and toast. It was then that the wife said something to me that I’ll never forget. I will do my best to translate it:
“This old coot doesn’t believe me, but I swear on our grandchildren’s lives that I saw someone walking down the old path before I went to bed last night. At first I thought it could’ve been you, but the girl was much, much taller. Tallest woman I’ve ever seen! They way she walked was odd too—like she was hurt, limping her way down to town.”
Dad and I looked at each other from across the table. He chimed in on my behalf:
“Who do you think it could’ve been?”
In hindsight, I am thankful that he stopped me from confessing that I’d seen the woman too. We would’ve likely been accused of leading her back to the settlement. As I was soon about to find out, folk around these parts love having someone else to blame for their misfortunes.
“I don’t know. She is not from around here, that’s for sure. If you ask me, she is probably the reason our animals keep dying. Outsiders have always been a bad omen.”
“Be quiet you hag! The man and his daughter aren’t here to listen to your crazy stories.” The husband finally had a chance to intervene, which, after some more back-and-forth, devolved into a typical domestic dispute. We thanked the elderly couple for their hospitality and promptly excused ourselves, though I doubt either of them noticed.
Over the next several weeks, more and more animals kept turning up dead. The closest thing we have to a vet couldn’t determine a cause. Goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, even dogs; animals that looked completely healthy one day were gone the next. One day, my parents and I woke up to a coop filled with dead chickens. There was nothing wrong with them as far as any of us could tell—they just lie there motionless while the ones still alive pecked carelessly around them. There was talk of a plague, but the idea was quickly brushed aside. What sort of plague kills overnight with no preceding symptoms? It was almost as if they were being poisoned, which briefly became the leading theory.
That was until the start of October, when a shepherd found something in the small birch grove that borders the town. Concealed between the trees was this crude arrangement of rocks. They were obviously placed there on purpose, and overlooking them was this cross between a scarecrow and a human-sized effigy made of twigs. It had a rusted cowbell dangling from its neck and a ram’s skull for a head. There was something about the way it just stood there, arms raised, praising something none of us could see. It made me feel vulnerable, tiny—like there was this benevolent force perpetually looming above us.
“Witchcraft!” Somebody yelled.
“We’ve been cursed!” Spouted another.
We scattered the rocks and burned the idol that same day. As I watched it get swallowed by the flames, I couldn’t help but feel that this is what the one who placed it there intended. I still think that this is the exact moment we unknowingly doomed ourselves, and that everything that follows could’ve been prevented. Too late now though.
Things only got worse as time went on. More animals kept dropping dead for no discernible reason. The bodies were piling up. We couldn’t even use the meat, as we still feared that it might’ve somehow been tainted, so we ended up just burying them outside of town. It was when the crops—our main source of income and food—started withering that things truly got desperate. Everyone became convinced that there was a witch among us. With my family being the most recent addition to the community, we were obviously the first to fall under scrutiny. Thankfully, my dad managed to appease the growing mob by pointing out that this supposed “curse” had severely impacted our livelihood as well. It made no sense that we would be the ones responsible. And so, accusations started getting levied against the next most plausible candidate.
I won’t be using her real name out of respect for the poor woman, so I’ll just refer to her as Maria.
Maria was about the same age as my mother, maybe slightly older, only she’d never married nor had any kids of her own. I never really got a clear answer as to why and I’m not about to start speculating—all you need to know is that she’d been living in relative solitude for years, which made her a prime suspect in the eyes of the traditionalist populace. Adding to it was the fact that her livestock had overall been spared, though she wasn’t even the sole outlier in that regard. There is no doubt in my mind that her targeting was largely the result of preexisting prejudice, and things were about to get a whole lot worse for her.
Everyday I would walk by her house and see a fresh batch of crosses carved into her door. People called her all kinds of names whenever they saw her in public. One time I even witnessed several women throw rocks at her, which the men eagerly encouraged. You might be wondering why the saner among us didn’t do anything to help. The unfortunate truth is that times were already tough and nobody wanted to risk getting themselves or their loved ones implicated by proxy. Also, good luck getting any outside authorities to intervene. Nothing short of a murder would ever convince an officer to come out here.
As it just so happens, that’s exactly what it took.
Time has been somewhat of a blur since the day I found her. I remember that it had snowed the previous night. Everything was covered in this crisp sheet of white. I was probably on my way to the only general store that there is here. It was far too cold for a casual stroll. Suddenly, I heard the distinct intermittent jingling of what sounded like a cowbell coming from somewhere nearby. As I circled pass Maria’s homestead like I’ve always done, I saw her—displayed at the foot of her own doorstep like some perverse art exhibit. Her partially stripped body was tied to a fence post, swollen and bruised beyond recognition. Frost clung to her dark hair as it flapped in the freezing wind, obscuring disfigured features that hardly resembled a face anymore. And… there it was. The same bell that we found around the idol’s neck now hung from hers, attached to a hoop of rope and barbwire, knocked about by the wind.
I was so thoroughly desensitized by that point that I just turned around and went home; didn’t even tell my parents. Somebody did eventually call the police, but nothing really came out of it. There was an investigation, suspects were questioned, but it ultimately got swept under the rug. Maria didn’t have any relatives or friends that were willing to pursue the matter further, so it was just sort of forgotten about by the time Christmas rolled around. People have their suspicions about who could’ve done it, of course. It is generally assumed to have been the shepherd with the help of a few of his drinking buddies, since he’s always been Maria’s most outspoken detractor, even before any of this “curse” stuff happened.
Thing is, I don’t think he did it.
There’s a detail that I’ve been deliberately neglecting to mention. I wanted to get the verifiable facts out of the way first. Throughout most of the events that I’ve described, the aforementioned tall woman has been haunting nearly every waking moment of my life. Her presence was subtle at first; barely noticeable and easy to disregard. Maybe I would catch something swaying ominously in the distance that I couldn’t fully make out. Perhaps there would be a long shadow stretching across the hallway at night, yet no one there to cast it.
After the desecration of the ritual site, however, any semblance of subtlety was completely done away with. I saw her near everywhere I looked, occupying some dim corner; a lanky figure with blueish-gray complexion, draped in a traditional white dress that was several sizes too small, as though it belonged to a child. Her hair was oily and sparse, barely clinging to her scalp and leaving little of her face to the imagination.
God, that fucking face.
Apart from its unhealthy hue, there was technically nothing wrong with it, but the way she would just stand there and look at me with this vacant smile and wide, glassy eyes was just… I honestly can’t think of an adjective that accurately describes how repulsive it felt. Dad still didn’t see her. I think my mum did, but she just plain refused to acknowledge it, even if the disheveled woman was standing literally right there, looming over her. One time I cornered her about it and, probably realizing I was teetering on the brink of mental collapse, she told me:
“Your grandmother used to say that there are things out here that like to watch, but hate to be seen. Once you do, it’s best to pretend like you don’t.”
So, that’s what I did. I spent over two months pretending like the grinning entity watching us from across the room wasn’t there; like its emaciated frame wasn’t the first thing that I would see whenever I stepped through that door. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I got used to it. Trying to go to sleep with that thing’s silhouette propped against the opposite wall never got easy, and keep in mind that I was dealing with this in parallel with everything else going on in town.
The reason why I’m telling you this (even though I probably shouldn’t) is that the tall woman suddenly stopped appearing around the house just a few days prior to me stumbling across Maria’s body.
Last week, another murder was reported. The goat herder’s wife was found in much the same state: with her battered remains tied to a tree directly outside their home and a cowbell dangling from her neck. I have a feeling that she won’t be the last one.
So, let’s summarize, shall we? I’m a teenage girl trapped in the middle of bumfuck nowhere with a homicidal ghost bitch that exclusively preys on women and may or may not be connected to the curse that’s progressively decimating our livelihood. I have next to no access to the outside world and the police can’t be arsed to help.
Credit : Morning Owl
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